The alarming level of Delhi’s air pollution created panic among the people during 2015 prompting the judiciary to act tough to give citizens the right to live in a healthy environment.
The judiciary, be it the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court, which once described that residing in the national capital was akin to “living in a gas chamber”, or the National Green Tribunal (NGT), dealt with these issues with an iron hand and passed a slew of stern directions.
Giving a strong message that judiciary would leave no stone unturned to curb the problem, the apex court on December 16 banned the registration of new diesel-run SUVs, high-end private cars with engine capacity of 2000CC and above in Delhi NCR till March 31, 2016.
The Supreme Court said that a ban on registration of such high-end vehicles will not affect the common man in Delhi as these SUVs are generally used by more affluent sections of the society.
The ban on registration of new diesel-run vehicles was the brainchild of NGT which had observed that the situation was so alarming that people have been even advised to leave Delhi due to adverse effects on health.
The pollution issue hogged the limelight during the year and the high court too joined the chorus when it said air pollution is of an “emergency nature” and this situation would not have arisen had the authorities implemented laws and rules to prevent environmental degradation.
The hard-hitting observations and concern shown by the judiciary in the year made Delhi government propose an innovative odd-even number vehicles policy for commuting in the capital to curb the rising pollution index due to vehicular emissions.
The AAP government’s odd-even numbers scheme came a day after the high court remarked that the current air pollution levels in the national capital have reached “alarming” level.
The scheme, which allows plying of private vehicles on alternate days from January 1, 2016, was virtually endorsed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur who said it can be followed “if it helps in reducing” the problem.
Although this scheme came under the NGT’s scanner, the AAP government had the last laugh after the high court refused to give an interim stay on the odd-even number plate formula.
The worsening air pollution was a much talked-about issue in the courts’ corridors as during the hearing in one of these matters, then Chief Justice of India H L Dattu remarked, “My grandson wears mask due to pollution and looks like a Ninja.”
In the year, the NGT acted tough on crop residue burning in northern states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, which largely affects the air quality of national capital, by imposing fines on farmers and asked the governments concerned to come out with the notification banning the practice.
The Supreme Court led from the front on these issues by passing a slew of directions on various pleas, including a PIL filed in 1984, and imposed Environment Compensation Charge (ECC) ranging from Rs 1,400 to Rs 2,600 on commercial vehicles entering Delhi on trial basis.
The severity of rising air pollution can be gauged from the fact that air filtering equipment were installed in the courtrooms of apex court after senior counsel Harish Salve, an amicus in the 1984 PIL, urged it to take immediate measures before the condition worsens.
The warning bells rang in the high court when a report filed by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said that the main lobby of the court had more than 2.5 times the particulate matter as compared to the safety standard.
The high court castigated its own panel concerned, the Maintenance and Construction Committee, for not doing anything on the issue saying it was “unacceptable” that everyone going to the lobby were at risk.
The NGT, which cracked the whip for the first time on air pollution issues, was surprised when during a hearing it found that the pollution level index reflected on the website of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee was at a ‘severe’ level.
It said the cumulative effect of such highly-polluted air in Delhi-NCR “was very harmful to the public health”.
As a significant interim measure, the green panel on December 11 ordered that no diesel-run vehicles should be registered in Delhi and there shall not be any renewal of registration of vehicles which are more than 10 years old.
The NGT, which asked the departments of central and state governments not to purchase any diesel vehicles in future, had on April 7 held that all diesel vehicles which are more than 10-year-old would not be permitted to ply in Delhi-NCR areas.
Noting that the polluted air in Delhi-NCR is injurious to human health particularly young children under the age of five years and they are suffering from asthmatic problems at this tender age, the NGT had also imposed a complete ban on burning of waste in open including garbage, leaves and plastic and directed that violators be fined Rs 5000 per incident.
The green panel said that there are three main sources of air pollution in the NCR of Delhi — dust, emissions resulting from burning and industrial pollution and finally vehicular emissions.
It said that the garbage and burning of other materials form nearly 29.4 per cent of the air pollution with reference to PM10 in Delhi-NCR.
( Source – PTI )